Thursday, December 31, 2009

The story behind the making of the 4 Speaker Nintendo DS mod

So, on this last day of the year, I finally post this mod I started back in February, before that major stomach flu/food poisoning incident that crippled me for 3 months. Thanks to that sickness though, I realized no one lives forever, and so I said "This DS won't live forever either, so why not cut it up..."

I actually had second thoughts about this one. This wasn't the same as totally taking apart my Palm OS devices, or taking batteries from one device and moving it to another, this is my First Nintendo Ds, that grey and black first production run DS, the very same with a Metroid Demo and Thumb stylus strap. I have a sort of special feeling for first time devices, and I really hated cutting holes into this thing and removing screws.(My AfterBurned Original Indigo Gameboy Advance doesn't count, right?) But what I had going against my personal feelings, were several reasons:

-This DS is wearing out. I'm talking fading colors (the grey is turning white, an ominous sign of aging), serial bar code disappearing, battery that lasts about 1/4th of it's rated output, not to mention it's not really that bright and the colors just aren't up to the DS lite/DSi.
-It's heavy. Seriously, I'm not really up to holding up this thing for extended periods of time (the aforementioned sickness had me lose about 16 pounds and severely weakening my muscles).
-It's getting old to the point where a just-as-old game "Feel the Magic XY/XX" is having a working rate of 20% (The DS is having trouble reading the cart, despite the cartridge's contacts cleaned regularly). Cleaning the DS's Slot-1 contacts isn't having any results whatsoever.

The DS shows its age. Note the white-ish parts. With a little bit of work, I can turn it into a white DS!

So, rather than toss this nostalgic piece of history, I decided to mod it. Now, I really didn't think it was going to work, I also didn't like the part where the DS might end up in the grave before me, but I said what the heck, No turning back now. I succesfully ripped a battery from my Palm OS Tungsten E2 and put it in my HP iPAQ rz1715, I braved electric shocks to temporarily revive my Casio Exilim Camera, I heavily modified my HP iPAQ hx2415's D-pad into a gaming friendly version, I was on a roll to the point where  I ended up being known as the "Repairman" in the family.

The Casio Exilim camera in its current state.

Looks like an ordinary LG Chocolate cell phone, huh?

Until you find out I shoved my Gameboy Advance Micro's battery into it. Yes, I can make calls, take pictures, play music, etc. just like before the mod. And it charges through the phone.

So what we have here is a 4 speaker mod for the Nintendo DS. Originally I planned to add only 1 speaker (from the previously mentioned Tungsten E2), as well as using Fruit Ties for the cabling (don't ask). Later through several weeks of testing I find the Fruit Ties cable setup being too stiff, lacking flexibility to twist along with the upper screen. It was around this time that another one of my ancient devices, a Palm OS Tungsten E, died when I apparently forgot to charge it (it was kept on life support, constantly connected to a USB port for juice and itself being used for Palm application testing)

With another Tungsten speaker in hand, I sought out a dead electric water heater kettle and ripped the wiring out to give me the flexible cabling I needed. The end result: A beautiful sounding handheld gaming system using up double the battery life of the already paltry amount available.

So the big questions are, why a speaker mod? It wasn't my first choice, actually. I tried to give the screen more brightness, or higher contrast (I find the DS Fat to be a nice size for my hands, if only it weren't so heavy). My additional lamps weren't lighting up, so I ended up brightening up the top screen with a more highly reflective mirror reflector taken from the previously mentioned Casio Exilim camera. My question is, why didn't Nintendo include this in the first place? (The mirror-like piece of plastic goes directly behind the LCD screen, mysteriously not present in my DS Fat) By lengthening it to go under the backlight, it was able to brighten up the screen, so much so it's close to the DS lite at it's lowest setting!

Intermission time. Guys, I have to ask, does your wife (or girlfriend for those with significant others) do this? Maybe a kiss? Or is this only in Japan...

After brightening up the top screen, I thought of several things, like adding a joystick in place of the D-pad, putting Dreamcast-like triggers in place of the L and R buttons, I even thought of making an extending antennae for the Wifi module. But those were make or break mods, modifications of existing components that if something broke, there's no going back. So I decided on "additions", add-ons with no modification to existing electrical components, thereby lowering the failure rate. At an earlier time, when I opened my DS to optimize the L and R buttons, I made note of that ridiculous amount of space inside the DS. Really, this system is so mod friendly, I wonder why there isn't much mods for it (a quick search on google several weeks ago only gave me links to PSP mods)

Adding a thin piece of anything hard like in the above pic helps the L and R buttons.

So my research told me that that Tungsten E2 can really be chopped up (I was more than happy to rip it apart, several years ago that was $200 down the drain with Palm's half assed approach to a minor "upgrade" from it's previous PalmOS devices. I later bought a Palm T|X to forgot those years). My Joystick and Dreamcast triggers ideas led me to look at that vast amount of space on the sides of the DS, one could probably fit  that PSP analog stick in there. So that brought me to that other new thing bugging me of late: being in a hot country, with killer humidity levels, the A/C is on usually during the times I do my gaming sessions. Sure, headphones make a big difference in both quality and enjoyment, but I've been sticking those in my ears for 2 decades now and I'm on a quest to preserve my already great hearing. That, and I just don't like the cabling getting in the way of anything, which is probably why I use a bluetooth headset for my cell phone.

The Tungsten E2 in its current state.

So I ultimately decided that my mod had to be a speaker mod. Additional speakers in the unit would not only look cool, but it would enhance those games with surround sound, as well as not require me to wear headphones. Look, I got nothing against headphones, I use both earbud and over the ear types, mostly while gaming on my laptop, but those, especially the massive ones that cover your ears completely like ear muffs, aren't friendly when it comes to ambiance, or rather the important sounds of everyday life (I can easily miss a text message or even a phone call with headphones on) With an increase in sound volume from the source, I won't need to use headphones, and I won't miss a call or message. Or the doorbell when the mailman has a package. Or the overflights of airliners landing at the nearby airport...

The speaker candidates. Left to right: speaker from HP iPAQ rz1715, speaker from Casio Exilim camera, speaker from Samsung Upstage phone, and an unnamed speaker from some Gamecube candy holder.

The Gamecube in question. Note the 3 holes.

So the birth of the 3 speaker DS, eventually evolving into the better 4 speaker DS.

The 3 speaker mod in it's earliest conception.

Fun facts (or the painful truth's)

-While working on the battery switch of the Tungsten E2 - Hp iPAQ rz1715, as well as reviving the Casio Exilim camera, I got shocked several times, giving me the taste of the reality of tasers. I had two super nasty shocks out of several: One when the Casio camera mysteriously had charged the camera's flash module, letting me have a taste of a full flash discharge, and the other when trying to fit the E2 battery into the rz1715, I held the negative contact with one hand and the other hand was holding the positive. The most brain numbing I ever got came, and the battery super heated to such a high level I literally threw the battery across the room.(Don't ask why I forgot about human conductivity...) I was that close to having it blow up in my face. So when working on the DS mod, I used rubber gloves and continually discharged any static I may have had (the DS had to be on when attaching the speakers, so as to test levels and usability when opening/closing the DS)
-I thought of using an even bigger screen in place of the current one on the top. Believe it or not, the backlight flex cable is exactly the same size as the one used for Palm's Tungsten series (hence why I tried to add them before this 4 speaker idea, it actually fit and lit up). I'm not surprised though, at a time when Sony declared LCD shortages and dropping out of the Palm race because of that, to see the same tech in two completely different devices didn't surprise me (same way an old iPAQ rz1715 had the same sized battery as the Tungsten E2 that came 2-3 years later)
-The DS Fat doesn't not have rubber conductive pads. It instead has a similar standard button layout of handheld devices of its time, silver metallic discs on top of a circuit board. Had it had the rubber conductive pads of the DS Lite, this would have been nice to mod a joystick into, as well as give more spring to the ABXY's step. Or perhaps that low layout is more ideal for modding...
-You might have noticed some odd carvings in the case. At the headphone port, I had to carve a curve large enough for my stereo headphones 3.5mm plug to fit into there (and by that, I mean those large, ear covering style headphones. To be honest, I found only my iPod headphones to fit in the space allowed by Nintendo (and YOU know how small the 3.5mm plug is on the iPod headphones)
-I thought of putting LEDs inside the case (a la Lock's Quest LE DS) to light up some crevices in the DS, but alas, given my battery situation and those rash of news of exploding batteries I decided to just forget about lighting up my DS and instead stay with the 4 speaker layout.
-I had several candidates for the speakers, although it was too rare to find two of the same [sized] speakers to use. Perhaps it was fate that led me to buy that Tungsten E2, which would probably be one of the few series of devices I have bought (the DS's being one of them, as well as my GBA's.)
-Believe it or not, I thought of adding a third screen. Yeah, it would have worked too. In fact, it is possible, just not in the way you are thinking. See, my idea involved adding one of the dead Tungsten E's on top of the DS, itself being powered by the DS's battery. The Palm device being separate, it would have been ideal for FAQ writing and viewing (I myself a FAQ contributor for GameFaqs). Alas, we are faced with that battery drain issue. It's a nice concept though... I just prefer Windows Mobile over PalmOS.

Look forward to my DS Lite joystick mod.

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